By Pam Martens: August 7, 2013
It’s only Wednesday and two major American newspapers, in separate transactions, have been purchased for cash by billionaires – in a fashion reminiscent of how they might shop for a bauble at Cartier.
On Saturday, John Henry, hedge fund trader turned owner of the Boston Red Sox, bought the Boston Globe from the New York Times for $70 million in cash. Forbes puts Henry’s net worth at $1.5 billion as of March of this year.
On Monday came the news that Jeffrey Bezos, CEO of online retailer Amazon.com, is purchasing the Washington Post for $250 million in cash. Forbes puts Bezos’ net worth at $25.2 billion as of March.
Included in the Washington Post deal is the Post’s web site, the Express newspaper, Gazette Newspapers, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Fairfax County Times, the Spanish-language newspaper El Tiempo Latino as well as a production and printing plant. The Post’s real estate is not included.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
With American democracy tragically diminished by the largest income inequality since the 1929 Crash, we are now embarking on an ever more dangerous era where billionaire-owned media will attempt to explain to 46.2 million Americans living in poverty how this happened in the great land of opportunity; why our great cities are filing for bankruptcy; why one in five children in the wealthiest country in the world go to bed hungry; why millions of bright young college grads are moving back in with their parents because they cannot find a job that pays a living wage.
Henry and Bezos are not the only billionaires set to control the information flow to a ravaged democracy. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose net worth is placed at $27 billion by Forbes, owns the syndicated wire service, Bloomberg News, as well as Bloomberg television. The company says the television division reaches 310 million households globally with 146 news bureaus in 72 countries.
And there is Rupert Murdoch, worth $11.2 billion. Murdoch is CEO of News Corp which claims 2,000 journalists in more than 50 countries. Its prize brand is Dow Jones, parent of the Wall Street Journal. Both the Wall Street Journal and another News Corp property, the New York Post, host two of the most rabidly pro-corporate editorial pages in the country.
The comment section of the Washington Post exploded yesterday under the article on the Bezos purchase. One commenter sadly inquired “As billionaires buy up newspapers, parks, art collections, will they let us use them, or not.” The greater danger, of course, is how will the billionaires use the newspapers.
Bezos is a billionaire, in part, because he took his company public on Wall Street. Bloomberg is a billionaire because Wall Street uses the Bloomberg data terminal in its offices around the world. Henry is a billionaire because he made his first bundle as a hedge fund trader on Wall Street.
Because Wall Street’s biggest banks serve as a critical cog in the issuance of U.S. Treasury securities, acting as primary dealers to place or absorb the debt, which in turn funds the United States government – we need unbiased, in-depth, investigative reporting to root out corruption before it becomes embedded as a business model.
So the question becomes, has corporate-owned media already failed in rooting out and calling out this corruption; how much worse will it become under layers of billionaires owning our news outlets.
Paul Farrell, one of the few outspoken critics still on the payroll of Dow Jones’ MarketWatch, offers an apt appraisal of the situation this morning in a column titled “Big Banks Conspiracy is Destroying America.” Speaking of Goldman Sachs, Farrell writes that the company “possesses a certain bold madness and borderline ethical behavior that today has not only been adopted by all its competitors on Wall Street but has also become the moral code running the collective brain of capitalists everywhere, corporate CEOs and Washington politicians.”
In November of last year, Bezos’ wealth generator, Amazon, borrowed $3 billion in the debt markets. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were the underwriters. Can we expect Bezos to bite the hand that feeds him; that puts buy or sell rankings on his company?